As I think about my journey to improved brain flexibility and fitness this week, I have found myself gravitating again and again to considering the impact of fear.
There has been much in the environment this last week to provoke an emotional response of fear. Fear for the health and safety of our families, fear for the state of the economy – especially for women who borne the brunt of “shecession” in the US – and fear for the integrity of some of our governing structures.
In many situations fear, and the resulting flood of adrenaline to our brain, is a very appropriate response. The adrenaline released by the brain serves as a messenger to prime us for “fight or flight”; our senses are heightened to all that is going on in the environment around us, our muscles are readied for a response. This is the gift of fear, removing or dulling distractions so that our bodies can focus on responding to the threat, very often a physical threat to our well-being. However, so many of the things that trigger a response of fear in our modern world are not physical, nor do they resolve themselves quickly or easily.
Neuroscience research has shown that our decision-making capabilities can be severely impaired when we are in a state of fear. If we are wrestling between a rational decision making process and a fear based process, the fear based process will almost always win. As the fear response is associated with the production of cortisol, a known inhibitor of brain function, we frequently retreat into processing our responses within just one side of the brain, whatever is our preferred brain hemisphere. Leveraging just one side of our brains to get to a decision or determine an action means that we are missing out on at least 50% of our brain’s capacity – and likely more. This could be considered the curse of the fear response.
A commitment to developing brain fitness in advance of situations that might stimulate the fear response is the key to promoting better decision-making when we are in the grip of strong emotions. The goal is to ensure the ability to process across both sides of the brain is retained after the initial fear/stress response. Some simple tips can help to prepare you:
- Develop positive neural pathways in advance of difficult situations:
- Daily positive affirmations or a meditation practice mean that in times of intense emotional response, the neural pathways have already been established and can be accessed more easily
- Focus on staying hydrated:
- Water is an excellent conductor of electricity and promotes the conduction of electrical synapses in the brain
- Build some movement into your day:
- Some level of movement or exercise is a great way to dissipate a build up of cortisol in the brain
I know from my own experience this last week, I have experienced some strong emotional reactions and yet I have still needed to be able to continue to function to a high standard. I can recommend all of these strategies as an important part of getting to and maintaining brain fitness.
Try out the strategies and track your progress towards better brain fitness.
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